Teen Takes the Lead to Create After-school Arts Program

Post and Courier, Charleston, SC newspaper, December 9, 2003

by Anne Rhett, Ink contributor

Editor's Note: Ink contributor Anne Rhett intends to start an after-school arts program as part of her involvement in Take the Lead, a national initiative that encourages 11th-grade girls to make positive changes in their communities. Anne will chronicle her project for Ink through the school year. This is her first installment.

Raising voter awareness. Alleviating childhood obesity. Protecting teenagers against destructive decisions. Improving literacy rates.

This is not President Bush's Christmas wish list. It's a to-do list that will be tackled in early 2004 by a group of passionate youths who have yet to reach voting age.

Oh, and by the way, they are all girls, and that includes me.

For one weekend this fall, we gathered at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, one of the country's first colleges for women, to discuss and improve upon ideas for making this a better world one step at a time. The program that facilitates this groundbreaking congregation, appropriately dubbed Take the Lead, has been running for four consecutive years and already has achieved ample success.

Pick up the latest teen magazine and you'll see stories of Take the Lead accomplishments.

The November issue of YM dedicated 12 pages to what it deemed the "20 Coolest Girls in America," and alongside Hilary Duff and Amanda Bynes were two Take the Lead participants.

YM applauded Susan Sparrow, who helped work for pay equity laws in Utah, and Caitlin Gorski, who put on a job fair for the homeless, for beyond-their-years efforts to improve their world.

Another Take the Lead success story is that of Anna Boatwright, an Ashley Hall graduate and current Mount Holyoke student who participated in Take the Lead during her junior year of high school.

Her program, hosted by the Charleston Family Y, provided deserving young girls the opportunity to take low-cost ballet lessons after school. She designed the course, taught the classes, and her program still operates today. Like Susan and Caitlin, Anna's efforts also led to glossy periodical fame. She was profiled in a two-page spread in the December 2001 issue of Seventeen magazine.

In addition to providing endless fodder for girl-power publications, Take the Lead provides young women the opportunity to realize dreams that seem impossible. To participate, you have to be nominated and then submit a proposal for an "action project" to solve a social problem you feel strongly about.

Only 40 "fired up" girls are selected from the rigorous application process. Their goals run the gamut, from gargantuan changes to fine-tuning adjustments. The common denominator: They will be carried out with enthusiasm by zealous, determined teenage girls. I was lucky to join their ranks. I flew up to South Hadley, Mass., the first weekend in October, and came back four days later "ready to roll." Between group workshops, yoga sessions, guest lectures and chick flicks, I befriended girls from all walks of life. Their insights helped me reaffirm my purpose and form a concise mission statement and strategy for my project -- a hands-on arts program for promising elementary-age children.

In many Lowcountry schools, the arts play second fiddle to math and English.

As a country striving to "leave no child behind," America cannot afford to risk this approach.

I am a product of arts-incorporated elementary schooling, and I believe strongly that arts education is necessary for academic growth and understanding.

The arts are not only a crucial part of the learning process (and have been proven so by numerous test-score studies) but also are essential to kindling intellectual curiosity and prompting "out-of-the-box" creative thought.

The arts, as a source of color and inspiration in what might be an otherwise bleak existence, are not expendable. They are absolutely essential.

Therefore, I propose the creation of Paint it Palmetto.

Paint it Palmetto will be an after-school program that will give local children the opportunity to experience art in an informal, educational environment, while providing them with a constructive after-school activity.

The program will be available to children in grades 3-5 who have been nominated because they show artistic promise, but who lack the opportunity to explore such interests outside of a school setting. The classes will meet once a week from January to April. Artistic high school volunteers will mentor the younger children as they teach lessons in the arts and do related hands-on activities.

Participants will work on four to five major projects, all centered around major artistic themes.

For example, students may be taught a brief history of Picasso, view some of his work and finish up by creating their own Pablo-esque self-portraits.

The project also will feature established "visiting artists" from the community and include field trips to the newly opened Children's Museum of the Lowcountry, local art galleries or outside venues. Each course will culminate in an exhibit/auction in the spring during the Spoleto Festival. It will be a long road ahead with many potential bumps along the way, but I have confidence that Charleston will be a little better for it, national magazine coverage or not.

Reprinted with permission.